Baseball and monsters dominate this week's cool Japanese stories.
Okay, So This Story Might Not Be Cool, but It's Interesting and Relevant
Starting stateside, there was bad news from spring training for Japanese pitcher Junichi Tazawa. The 23-year-old right-handed pitcher for the Red Sox will have season-ending Tommy John surgery, which means something is horribly wrong with a ligament in his elbow.
Tazawa made headlines when he asked not to be drafted by any pro teams in Japan and played one year in Japan's industrial league. The Red Sox swooped in and signed him to a three-year deal in December 2008. The youngster posted a 9-7 record with a 2.55 ERA in three different levels of the minors last season and finished out the year 2-3 with a 7.46 ERA in 4 starts and 2 relief appearances for the Red Sox. One of those relief appearances was his major league debut, an extra-inning affair against Boston's archrival, the New York Yankees. Tazawa pitched well but gave up a walk-off home run to Alex Rodriguez in the bottom of the 15th inning.
Dr. James Andrews, who is apparently the only doctor who can perform this procedure, will operate on the Yokohama native on Tuesday.
A Big Win for a Small Prefecture
Sunday is Opening Day in MLB, but baseball has been in full swing in Japan for two weeks. Professional baseball isn't the only game in town, however. The amateurs were on center stage for Japan's equivalent of March Madness, the Spring Senbatsu High School Tournament at Koshien Stadium in Osaka. (Japan has two March Madnesses; there is a Summer Senbatsu as well.)
Saturday 43,000 people watched as Konan High School from Naha, Okinawa scored five runs in the top of the 12th inning to win the Spring Koshien. Konan starter Yosuke Shimabukuro pitched all 12 innings and struck out 11.
This is huge, not only for Konan, but for all of Okinawa. Okinawa has long been the redheaded stepchild of Japan. It's the poorest prefecture (state) in the country and is overrun by the US military. To some mainlanders Okinawans aren't considered "real" Japanese. Okinawans have a unique history, culture, and cuisine. But now, for at least a few moments, Okinawans are Japanese. I'm happy for Konan High School, and I'm bursting with pride for my family in Okinawa.
Off My Soapbox, Back to Baseball
I mentioned earlier that baseball season has already begun in Japan.
This stick – I mean, model – is Nanao, this year's Race Queen and "image girl" for apparel manufacturer Sanai's swimsuit collection. She throws out the first pitch at a game between the Nippon Ham Fighters and the Orix Buffaloes this week. I love how the umpire is trying not to look at her.
If Vivian Woodall, a teacher at my elementary school back in Hope Mills, North Carolina, had seen this photo, she would've screeched, "Feed this girl some grits 'n' gravy!" Since Nanao is Japanese, maybe someone should feed her some katsu curry instead.
Did Someone Say Curry?
Oh, yes. It was a huge question back when Hideki Matsui's days as a Yankee were numbered. But the question was answered this week. Go! Go! Curry! will still give out coupons for one free topping the day after Matsui hits a home run. Even though the 2009 World Series MVP is now with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, the best Japanese junk food joint in NYC still support him.
From One Godzilla to Another
While one Godzilla is being welcomed to Hollywood, another Godzilla is rumored to make a return. This week I read rumors about a joint venture between Legendary Pictures and Warner Bros Pictures to bring back the iconic Japanese monster in stunning 3-D technology. Thomas Tull, founder and president of Legendary Pictures, promises the new version won't suck as much as the 1998 remake that starred Matthew Broderick.
That's it for this week. More cool Japanese stories in seven days.